My Experience with Elder Care and Assisted Living

elder careEighty-four percent of Americans over the age of 50 expect an immediate family member to move into a senior living community within the next 10 years, while 24 percent over the age of 65 expect the same for themselves, according to a new national survey of American attitudes on assisted living released today by the Coalition to Protect Choice in Senior Living (CPCSL). The poll found just more than half (51 percent) expect their parents to live in a senior living community within 10 years, with 15 percent expecting the same for their spouse and 10 percent for a sibling.

My Story

I’d like to briefly share the story of the event that started me on this path. I imagine it’s similar to your own in that it begins with an unexpected phone call.

My wife and I had just returned from celebrating our engagement in Greece, and we were sharing stories over bowling with some good friends.

I was the product of a second marriage, and my mom and I had become quite close since my father’s passing while I was in high school. We spoke often, so I wasn’t surprised when my cell phone rang and the caller ID showed it was her.
I was surprised when I answered and it was the paramedics.

Apparently, my mother called 411 asking for my name and phone number as she could not remember it. The operator called 911, and in a matter of minutes, they had arrived, kicked down the door and called me.

My mother had a stroke. I was only 33, and totally unprepared for the depth of emotions, or the complexity of the decisions I was about to face.

That a 73-year old woman had a stroke is not unusual. My mom’s case was unique because of the series of complications that nearly killed her. In the eighteen months following her stroke, she endured major back surgery to remove a staph infection from her spine, a perforated intestine that required stomach surgery, several MRSA infections1 requiring IV antibiotics and a broken hip. She spent several weeks in the surgical intensive care unit recovering from her back surgery. Many of these nights, I feared the worst. But my mom is a fighter.

The medical system these days isn’t designed for long-term recovery. Hospital personnel are highly trained at treating acute problems and dealing with specific injuries and conditions. In fact, we have some of the most skilled doctors in the world.

But when you’re older and recovering from a serious illness, your options are usually to go home, or go to a skilled nursing facility – where staff can provide physical or occupational therapy, administer IVs and perform other functions requiring a registered nurse.

During this time, she spent nearly six months moving back and forth between the hospital and skilled nursing. In January of 2006, I moved Mom from San Diego to Orange County. She graduated from skilled nursing and was on her way to assisted living.

Trust, Hope and Hard Work

When Mom arrived in assisted living, she could not stand or walk and required a 24-hour caregiver. She could not eat or drink on her own and was in a deep state of depression.

While I found much advice on medical conditions and treatment, I found virtually nothing on understanding assisted living. Sure, there were some Websites that taught you the basics, like “make sure a nurse is on duty” or “make sure the kitchen is clean.” But this is my mom and I wanted far better for her. I wasn’t putting her away; I was playing a key role in her recovery.

Because of the lessons I learned – and a lot of hard work on the part of my mother – she is doing very well. In fact, we’ve become very close friends. She walks with a walker; her memories are clear and vibrant. She has a circle of friends and a packed calendar.

She even made it to my wedding. And she looked beautiful. I cried. They say your wedding toast is one of the most important speaking opportunities you’ll ever have. And I consider myself to be a good public speaker, routinely speaking at tradeshows and other events. But when I looked into the crowd and saw my mother smiling, I fell apart.

The joy I felt at seeing her on that special day was overwhelming. So was my commitment to her continued well being. It was my clear intention that she be given every opportunity in her assisted living situation to thrive, to grow, and to be fulfilled.

Recall the statistics at the beginning of the chapter. While I was shocked these numbers were so high, I completely agree. I did some homework. In an informal study of about 40 people, I sensed an almost inevitability about needing assisted living. I also found that financial issues and quality of care topped the list of concerns for both Baby Boomers and their children.

I followed up my informal study with a formal study of nearly 200 families. The Assisted Living Family Attitude and Preparedness Report showed that 75% of respondents believed a friend or family member would soon require assisted living. The report is free to anyone who wants to read it and can be accessed at the link above.

My goal is to share with you some of what I learned through my journey. My hope is that these lessons can make it easier for you and your mom, dad, relative or loved one. I assume you’re reading this blog because you or a loved is considering assisted living. Since you likely haven’t gone through it before, the decisions can be overwhelming. I’ve written this blog to help you make more informed decisions, and to be calm in what is likely to be an emotional storm. I sincerely hope I can help you avoid some of the pitfalls of learning the assisted living ropes.

While a move to assisted living may initially be seen as negative, I know first- hand that with some careful and thoughtful planning, you can make it a huge positive for all concerned. Over the last several years, my relationship with my mother has strengthened. She has become one of my best friends and an integral part of my life.

I hope you enjoy reading this blog and that I’m able to somehow make your journey a bit easier.

Photo Credit: andrewmalone.

  • http://blog.accunurse.com AccuNurse

    It’s really great to hear such a personal story from someone with your perspective. Good luck to you and your mother!

  • ClearCare

    Thank you for sharing your experiences with assisted living. Everyone has such a unique story. ClearCare online is a company that is dedicated to making aging in place an attainable reality for seniors and their families in conjunction with a reputable homecare agency. Our care management software provides real time updates to family members and care managers via a secure log-in site. Like you, our goal is to make aging’s journey easier and we look forward to reading more about your experiences!

  • http://www.ryanmalone.com Ryan Malone

    Deleted

    Best,

    Ryan
    949-209-9442

  • http://www.retirementstory.com/ Janett Brown

    Thank you for sharing this story. It’s really dreadful to see someone we love suffering without being able to do much for him/her.

  • http://www.ryanmalone.com Ryan Malone

    Thanks for the comment. Luckily our hard paid off. She has thrives enough in assisted living to be able to move into a house with with a family member.

  • http://www.sherwood-oaks.com/ Cara Larose

    Your story is just as helpful as it is touching, Ryan.  We always want the best for our parents, and by this, we mean the very best.  As soon as we know that they’re doing well and are perfectly safe, we’re happy and relieved.  Indeed, there are places like assisted living which are always keen to address our parents and their needs all the time.  These places always make sure that our parents receive all the support and care they can get.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=698642098 Francois

    Good story..inspiring

  • http://clearcareonline.com/ ClearCare

    hat was indeed an uphill struggle for someone like Ryan who had to endure the emotional pains of seeing his mom in such a terrible condition. The younger generation now has to take the reins of responsibility of looking after their vulnerable seniors. They owe it to their old parents. After all, parents spent a large part of their lifetime raising their children with unconditional love and affection. The children should also do the same. As seniors approach the end of their lives, they begin to experience physical, social, and psychological changes they alone cannot bear. They need the supportive care of their families. Adjusting to an assisted living situation is difficult for both the aging parent and the children. While nursing facilities have become quite a trend, many seniors still choose to be homebound. Finding the right home care solution that personalizes care is important for them to make a healthy transition. Ryan’s experience was something that we all can learn from. Thank you Ryan.

  • http://www.ryanmalone.com Ryan Malone

    Thanks Chris. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Tracy

    My husband and I have gone thru this exact thing, not once but twice with both sets of parents.  My husbands parents first.  My father in law was in his 60′s when he had my husband so he was already 92 when I met him.  My mother in law died unexpectedly at age 62.  We moved into his house and took fulltime care of him for the first six years of our marriage until his death at almost 99 years of age.  Being newlyweds, it was a huge challenge.  And now, we’re taking care of my parents.  We all moved into a large home together so we can each have our space.  We can see that’s it’s very important that seniors can keep their independence and feeling of self-worth as much as possible.  We help them where they need it and let them do what they can on their own. We’re here for them however they need us. 
    We found that there is literally NO help for caretakers.  We tried state aid but didn’t qualify.  We jumped thru all the hoops to no avail. We wish we’d had places to turn for help.  Because of this need we saw, we decided to help others like us and created a website called http://www.oldpeoplerule.com.  The site sells clothing to help seniors still dress themselves, or to make it easier for caretakers to dress their patients.  We so wish we’d have had a place like this when we were taking care of ‘pop’, the 92 year old.  It was incredibly difficult to dress him because he insisted in dressing in slacks and button down shirts.  The Old People Rule website has open back, Velcro clothes and easy on/off shoes, shirts, dresses & pants.  It would have made our life much easier and we hope it will make others lives easier too.  It allows seniors to dress themselves, especially for those with Alzheimer’s, arthritis, and diabetes and for those in wheelchairs.  We need more places like this so we can all help each other with our aging parents.

  • http://www.ryanmalone.com Ryan Malone

    Thanks for sharing, Tracy.

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  • http://adlware.com/ Mark

    When
    I finally found a caregiver that I trusted she possessed all of the qualities
    you mentioned, and used a home care software
    through the private duty agency she worked
    for. The particular system is called ADLware http://adlware.com/ and with it, we can
    get real time updates on what’s going on at the house anytime of day. The extra
    transparency was a major plus for us!